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Early Effects of North Carolina’s Comprehensive Articulation Agreement on Credit Accumulation Among Community College Transfer Students


Community college transfer pathways, whereby students begin their postsecondary enrollment at a 2-year institution, are an increasingly popular option for students looking to complete a bachelor's degree. Designed to increase transfer efficiency, articulation agreements between community colleges and 4-year institutions provide structured pathways for students to transition between colleges while minimizing excess credits earned and time to degree. This study examines the early effects of North Carolina’s statewide credit articulation agreement on students’ credit-earning behaviors. Using difference-in-differences and event study analyses, we use administrative data from the 16 University of North Carolina (UNC) System institutions to examine how the implementation of the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) impacts credit accumulation for students transferring from North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) institutions into the UNC system. We find that, in the first 4 years after implementation, the CAA decreased credit accumulation upon graduation by two to five credits for some students who were enrolled in CAA-eligible degree programs. Additionally, we found that the policy had a delayed effect with no discernable reduction in credit accumulation until 1–2 years after policy implementation.

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  1. We calculated time enrolled by adding up the number of semesters a graduate spent at the four-year university. Due to the structure of our dataset, we split the academic year into three semesters: fall, spring, and summer. A student was included in the two-year group if they spent 6 or fewer semesters (2 years) at the four-year college.

  2. To avoid problems of multicollinearity and Ashenfelter’s Dip, we excluded the year prior to policy implementation so that it served as the reference year in our models (Furquim et al. 2020).

  3. We have included these findings in the results because the p-value for the estimate falls between the generally accepted, yet stringent, p-value of 0.05 and the less conservative p-value of 0.10. We believe the practical significance of this finding contributes to our understanding of the effects of the policy and should therefore be reported (Hubbard and Lindsay 2008).


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We would like to thank our UNC System Office, and in particular Dr. David English and Dr. Diane Marian, and the North Carolina Community College System Office colleagues for supporting this research. We also thank our Belk Center colleagues, John Fink at the Community College Research Center, Dr. Nick Bowman at the University of Iowa, and Dr. Rob Toutkoushian at the University of Georgia for their suggestions on early versions of this manuscript. Finally, to our colleagues in North Carolina working with transfer students day in and day out, thank you for what you do to support students.

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Correspondence to Rachel Worsham.

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Worsham, R., DeSantis, A.L., Whatley, M. et al. Early Effects of North Carolina’s Comprehensive Articulation Agreement on Credit Accumulation Among Community College Transfer Students. Res High Educ 62, 942–975 (2021).

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  • Community college transfer
  • Articulation agreements
  • State policy
  • Credit accumulation